According to a common definition, a learning organization is an organization that self-observes and does not consider its processes as definitively established. It is more a method than an approach, a mindset. A method is defined as the means used to achieve a given result while respecting a planned approach. However, the organization which adopts an approach works on itself as explained by the philosopher René Descartes: « change yourself rather than the world. » In other words, changing an approach, individually or collectively, results from changing an inner posture, his mindset.
A lot of organizations do it however it remains difficult to identify them. In fact many companies say they are learning but there are two types of learning, in single and double loop, and the difference is fundamental. The first type of learning occurs through adaptation when feedback is used to improve the means of achieving the desired result. The double-loop learning is rather exploration; Feedback not only improves the working methods, but also the objectives depending on intuition on the « emerging future. »
The learning organizations do not only seek to get results, but try to understand how they get them through the use of criteria such as accordance with the environment, called emerging future or collective intelligence or enhancement of individuals’ creativity. Their leadership style overrides the top down processes by the intelligence of the system and aims to enable staff of an organization to communicate outside the “silo” operating system hence more efficiency and sustainability. Their credo: “keep learning is the way to survive”. In fact change is not « managed » or « conducted » but integrated as a permanent (ontological) living element, creating a stream for opportunities.
The researchers have sought to identify the features of learning organizations, such as the capacity of testing new ideas, solving problems through collective intelligence, learning from experiences…Until now, they have observed and identified the tools used by the learning organizations but they have not answered to the question: how does one acquire these skills? The same researchers then become evasive and literature is relatively poor. Probably because learning organizations are rooted in areas as varied as cultural anthropology, social psychology, theories of organization and cognitive sciences; probably also because they use different types of intelligence, collective and individual, but also physical, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual (meaning of an activity in a given environment and intuition on the emergent future), all topics which are yet to be studied.
But what learning organizations exhibit more clearly are the tools they use such as the Open Forum, the World Café … many tools used for structuring conferences and working meetings but also for helping the emergence of new social and sustainable projects.
Why to study learning organizations?
First learning organizations offer a large area of research topic in terms of theories of organizations or social psychology: what is the place of the charismatic leader in this organization? What is the relationship between agency and structure? Are all individuals at ease in this opened context? Etc…
The study of learning organization also helps the development of new projects or the creation of hub based on the principle « think global, act local ».
Second, the philosophy of « learning together » develops quickly. It came from a concern of a group: the European Royal Dutch Shell, which wanted to develop scenarios including the uncertainties of a changing world and based on observations or the intuitions of individuals that the sociologist Alain Vulpian called « social perception » as well as on the work of Jean Piaget on how children learn. It was from a meeting between a director of Shell and Peter Senge of MIT in Boston in 1985 that the concept of « learning organization » born.
Finally, it is important to study the learning enterprise because in a more complex environment, any organization needs for its survival to ensure that all stakeholders communicate with each other such neurons in a brain.
How to study learning organizations?
Even if academic literature is poor, several practical tools exist for understanding learning organizations: the theory U developed by Otto Scharmer, the « lean and learn », « agile thinking » or the « Diamond » of the participation or the storytelling. The learning process is usually based on the five disciplines identified by Peter Senge: self-knowledge and mastery of mental models (personal development), teamwork and shared vision (collective intelligence) and learning from the intuitive perception of a complex reality (existential intelligence).
If you know any learning organizations or researches on them, please let us know